Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Seasons of Change

My perception of God and His ways has changed dramatically over the years.

This shouldn't come as a great surprise. God is infinite, we are not. All we can know of Him is what He chooses to reveal. So the question, "Where did God come from?" is not one that we can answer, because He hasn't told us. God's Word tells us He has always existed (Isaiah 43:13) and that He alone is God, for now and eternity. (Isaiah 43:10) And the Bible clearly states in numerous places that God never changes; actually, He cannot change with respect to His being, attributes, purpose, or promises. (Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17, to name a couple.)

But wait a minute! What about those places where the Bible says God changed His mind? If He's all knowing and all powerful, why would He say one thing and then do another? For example, that little golden calf incident in the wilderness. (Exodus 32:9-14)

Moses had just spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop with God, communing with Him and receiving His laws for the Israelites. Meanwhile, the people down below thought he was never returning and pressured his brother Aaron, the high priest, to make a representation of their God for them to worship. They donated a bunch of gold jewelry and Aaron fashioned a golden calf to which they bowed down and offered sacrifices. They then indulged in pagan revelry, probably mimicking the kind of idolatrous worship they'd seen in Egypt.

God informed Moses about what was going on, and said He was going to destroy them all and make Moses' descendants into a great nation. Moses immediately interceded on behalf of the Israelites, imploring God not to annihilate them. And the Bible says God changed His mind.

How do we reconcile passages like this with the character of an unchanging God? This has been the source of much debate over the centuries, and I won't pretend to be the fount of all wisdom. God is still pretty much incomprehensible to mortals, and is not required to explain Himself unless He chooses to do so. But there are a couple of things I can note about this example.

God doesn't change in His being or attributes. He remains constantly who He is. His promises don't change - what He has said, He will accomplish. He doesn't change His purpose - what He desires will come to pass. But the specific way His plans are fulfilled can vary at times.

He has chosen to bring about His will on the earth with the participation of imperfect human beings. Sometimes we fail to carry out His directions, and miss out on His blessing. But the purpose of God is still accomplished despite our failures. That's why Romans 8:28 says "God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." (NLT)

In this particular instance, God could have carried out His threat to annihilate the Israelites and start over with Moses without violating His purpose or His promise. His promise to Abraham to create a great nation and eventually produce the Savior of the world from his descendants would still have been valid, since Moses was from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But such wholesale slaughter certainly wouldn't have reflected well on a God who is "slow to anger and filled with unfailing love." (Exodus 34:6) Moses used his knowledge of God's character to convince Him not to take such a drastic action.

I believe this conversation was also a test of Moses' character. Who wouldn't be tempted to grab at the offer of being the father of a great nation? Moses passed the test, showing his love for his people by pleading for their forgiveness. He was more concerned about God's glory than his own. He wanted the whole world to know that the one true living God was rich in mercy and compassion.

Studying His Word helps us know God better. The Bible reveals His character and attributes, what He likes and what He hates, and His plan for mankind and for future ages. Jesus clearly indicated that a personal relationship with the Father is not only possible, but required if we want to live with Him forever. (Matthew 7:21-23) We need to know Him, not just know about Him. When we do, our actions will follow our faith. We'll want to do His will because of our love and gratitude.

My theology and my understanding of God and His ways have changed considerably over the years. When I first began serving Christ, I was taught a lot of Scriptural principles and traditions of the church. As I have studied the Bible, I've discovered that some things I have believed for a long time are not exactly correct. Many of these things are not critical to salvation - end times theology, the nature of good and evil, grace vs. works. But wrong understanding can lead to wrong actions. This may not cost me eternal life, but I might behave in ways that don't please God, hindering others from finding Him.

God wants us to know Him. His plan is for us to develop and demonstrate the character of His Son in our lives. (Romans 8:29) The rewards of knowing Him come to those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) I want to really know Him, to draw near to Him and learn of His ways. As I pursue God, He's refining my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I still have plenty of failings and character flaws, but I am becoming more Christlike with His help.

One of the ways God refines our character is by increasing our understanding of His ways. Jesus is our example of a life lived through the power of God. He always did the will of God because He was connected to His Father every day. (John 5:19) And when we stay connected to the Lord through prayer and study of His Word, our very lives change and we begin to demonstrate the love of Christ in this world through our actions.

God is very patient. He'll take a lifetime to draw us close, with the ultimate goal being eternity in perfect communion with Him. I'm thankful that He never gives up and never fails. And He's promised we'll find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. (Jeremiah 29:13)

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